A Reflection on Busyness, Part 1

If you’re like me, you’re probably caught yourself saying “I’d love to (fill in the blank,) but I just don’t have time.” Our lives have become so incredibly busy over the last twenty years as technology and informational availability rocket forward on a seemingly infinite trajectory. Our finite minds struggle to keep up! There are so many news stories available, so many social networking sites to interact with, so many movies and television shows to watch and games to play and so on.

Not my favorite artist or work, but it seemed apropos.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

There are so many things that exist that demand our attention, making as much noise and bombarding us with as many bright colors and flashing lights as they can to hold our ever decreasing attention spans long enough to…do what, exactly? Improve our lives? Sell us something, or someone? Distract us from what we really ought to be doing? This is going to be the first installment of some reflections on busyness.

I can’t help but feel that while people in the Western World may be busier than ever before, we’re becoming less productive as a general rule. I can’t help but remember the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s Time from The Dark Side of the Moon, with its melancholy lament over how much we waste this completely unrenewable resource. This intuition of increasing lost time is mostly aimed at Generation Y and subsequent generations — the generations who have had it better than in any other time in known history.

Take for a contrasting case in point, my beloved grandfather. My Pappaw grew up in the back woods around West Monroe, Louisiana and was dirt poor as a child. Often, he spent his spare time hunting or fishing in order to supplement his diet. If he didn’t do that, he sometimes didn’t get enough to eat. As a result, he spent time with friends out in the woods learning survival skills and developing an appreciation for hard work that he still holds today.

And yet that sort of hardship and suffering, while it still exists, has been mostly shielded from American life a scant two generations later. I know how to hunt and fish, but not because I had to learn. I learned because my father and grandfather insisted that I learn how to do both. I had a much easier childhood than both my father and grandfather, but I feel like I missed out on a lot. I feel like I’m only now coming to understand things that they knew at a younger age than where I am.

I fully recognize the irony as I type this, but I find myself becoming something of a Luddite as I age. I dislike social media as a general rule because there’s very little that I would call important being shared on those sites. I don’t need to know about what anybody ate for lunch, nor do you need to know the ins and outs of my day unless you ask me about it in person or over the phone. Ultimately, nobody cares about your thinly-veiled attacks on another person’s character, or about what your reaction is to a television show. Most people’s opinions (and I include mine here) are not as important as we make them out to be. Social media is just another outlet to make ourselves the centers of our own little universes, allowing us to maintain the self-perception that our opinions matter and we have copious amounts of “friends,” even if we never talk to those people or actually care about what’s going on in their lives.

But that’s an easy target. Let’s try one that hits a little closer to home for me: Netflix instant streaming. We have the technological marvel of being able to watch almost any movie or television show that we want on demand. The esteemed John Piper had this to say on the topic:

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”

Imagine how many people will be standing at the judgment of God, having said in their actions, “Meh, I had better things to do. Gray’s Anatomy was on Netflix!” I shudder to think about this in my own life. And don’t get me started on how much time I have spent on video games, I’ve covered that one already.

There are so many things worth learning and doing that lay undone due to distraction. The time is there, but the will isn’t because learning and doing are hard. The distractions are so much easier and so much more comfortable, just as Uncle Screwtape commented to Wormwood in his letters. To think that by now I could have mastery of Spanish and German, or picked up a productive hobby that could net me some ancillary income. But instead, distractions. To think that by now I could have a more productive walk with God and be more transformed by the renewing of my mind. (Romans 12:2) But instead, distractions. To think of the work I could have done for the community around me. But instead, distractions.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to turn off the computer/Xbox/whatever else, and do something useful. Being busy is not enough, we must be productive. We must not only have something to do, we must have something worth doing. I implore you, examine your life to find the time eaters and do those things you have always wanted to do but didn’t have the time for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go practice German with Duolingo.